Company “A” Corps of Engineers
On May 13th, 1846, the United States of America declared war on Mexico. The States, under the presidency of James K. Polk, were expanding and had their sites set on Mexican land. Days after war was declared, a Company of Engineers was authorized by the act of May 15th. This was a hundred men engineer company that was part of the regular army. A small portion of the Corps of Engineers would be known as “Company A” and it was led by Alexander J. Swift, Gustavus W. Smith, and George B. McClellan. All three men were graduates of WestPoint Military academy and served different purposes throughout the war.
The disciplined engineers started their journey at Matamoros and became “the pick and shovel brigade.” Here, several engineers began to die of diseases while waiting in camp. Many men, including Captain Alexander Swift, were left in the hospital when the army eventually left Matamoros. In January of 1847 there were only 47 men left in the Corps of Engineers. They repaired a road at Victoria and modified a river crossing so that wagons could get across effectively. The Corps worked as hard as they could, “as if the house was on fire,” and successfully aided 800 troops in just 3 hours. This showed, early on, Lieutenant Smith’s desire to get jobs done quickly and to avoid formalities.
Engineering was difficult and the company worked extremely hard shifts.
“We worked from dawn of the day until dark and encamped about six miles from where we started in the morning.”
--Lieutenant Smith (Page 12)
The company traveled on to Tampico and next to Vera Cruz where Captain Swift arrived by sea in his ill health. Luckily, the engineer corps was met with little resistance but Swift died shortly after the landing here. The goals at Vera Cruz were to make a road, destroy water supply, and install armies for attack and defense. If successfully occupied, the goals were to survey fortifications, dismantle gun batteries and to...